Due to translations, the other language editions of NATO Review go online approximately two weeks after the English version.
About NATO Review
Submission policy
Editorial team

Modernising militaries

Sebestyén L. v. Gorka reviews three books on military reform since the end of the Cold War.

The crises of the past decade in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan can leave no one in any doubt of the fundamental transformation that armed forces have undergone in the post-Cold War era, in means, mission and relationship with the rest of society. Each of the three books under review seeks to address issues of how modern militaries relate to the societies that surround and sustain them, and how they should be applied to current challenges.

The first two books - NATO Enlargement and Central Europe: a study in civil-military relations (NDU Press, Washington, 1996) by Jeffrey Simon and the compilation of essays, Army and State in Postcommunist Europe (Frank Cass, London, 2001), edited by David Betz and John Löwenhardt - deal specifically with the challenges facing former Warsaw Pact countries and are essentially aimed at a limited and specialist audience. Internationally, English-speaking analysts specialising in this field are few and far between. They tend to be closely acquainted with the problems at hand, often having served in government positions related to the defence sector, so there is little room for inaccuracies or generalisations. The third book, The Intervention Debate: towards a posture of principled judgement (US Army War College, Carlisle, PA, 2002) by John Garafano, grapples with the timely and thorny issue of when a nation should use force in this new age. The work of an American author focused on US military deployment strategy might seem like the odd-man out in this trio. But the reality is that all developed nations are currently challenged by the sea change in the strategic environment that was heralded by the end of the Cold War. In spite of the oppressive, ultimate threat of a Third World War, there was a comfortable predictability and stability about that bygone era because the enemy, task and tools were self-evident. Today, the fruits of the post-Cold War peace dividend are seen in downsized militaries and cuts in defence budgets, while at the same time a host of new and expensive missions such as peace enforcement, peacekeeping and nation-building are stretching capabilities and resources. All NATO members are affected by these changes, as are those countries that wish to be closely associated with the Alliance and contribute to its new missions.

Although Jeffrey Simon's book was published six years ago, his book is included in this review for two reasons. First, his almost monthly visits to the region in the years preceding NATO's first round of enlargement in 1999, allowed Simon practically to corner the market among Western writers detailing efforts to reform Central European armies. It would be difficult to find another scholar with so many column inches published on the countries concerned, given his 1996 tome as well as regular reports published in Strategic Forum , the newsletter of the Institute for National Security Studies at the National Defense University. Second, with decisions on NATO's next round of enlargement due at the Prague Summit in November and with a follow-up work by Simon on the same topic in the pipeline, it would be useful to remind ourselves of the assessments he made of defence reform in Central European countries prior to the 1999 Washington Summit.

The book is split into a general discussion of initiatives taken by NATO to facilitate cooperation and potential enlargement followed by a country-by-country, chronologically structured description of the approaches to military reform in the early 1990s and the extent to which they were being implemented. Germany is examined with respect to the absorption of the East German Nationale Volksarmee into the Bundeswehr, followed by chapters on Czechoslovakia and its successor states, Hungary and Poland. In conclusion, Simon sums up the burning issues that are common to all. Each country report is almost overwhelming in the level of detail, particularly in terms of individuals cited and descriptions of actions by key players, reflecting the author's access to and frequent meetings with many of the personalities involved. Consequently, a good overview is given of the downsizing and organisational changes made to the armed forces as well as the specific obstacles to reform in each case.

The chapter on Poland gives readers an insight into the conflict between President Walesa and the civilian elite of the Polish MoD, on the one hand, and a certain Chief of the General Staff, who could at times be rather creative in his interpretation of constitutional strictures and the chain of command, on the other. In the Hungarian case, the improvised understanding Budapest had - and still has - of the meaning of civilian control of the military is well documented. Simon's main criticism is summed up in the sub-heading: From Citizens in Uniform to Generals in Suits . Constitutional confusion is highlighted as being a true obstacle to meaningful control and reform of the armed forces, as is the weakness of the parliamentary defence committee in overseeing defence expenditure. Overall, even in the shorter chapters on Czechoslovakia and its successor states, Simon lays a firm foundation for further examination of the difficulties each country faced and, in some cases, still faces in the transition from a military system that served Moscow, was top-heavy in officers and completely undervalued delegation of responsibility to non-commissioned officers, to a system of independent forces with modern capabilities, defined around national and consensus-based Alliance needs, in which initiative is rewarded.

The only criticisms of Simon's work are slight and hard to overcome. The true extent of an author's understanding of a country and its specific problems - especially in a sector as specialist as defence - without knowledge of the relevant language or languages can always be questioned. As someone who was also involved in the defence reform process, it is at times easy to spot where a little native knowledge would have rounded out the true picture or helped clarify some unresolved questions. Nevertheless, the conclusions drawn by the author remain valid. Most of the countries concerned needed to take defence and military reform more seriously and to boost the prestige of a long-neglected sector, as well as to do more to live up to their international financial and political commitments. Unfortunately, while three of the countries examined have joined NATO in the intervening years, not much has changed since the book was published.

Frank Cass must be the preferred publisher for security-policy analysts, having carved a niche for itself comparable to none, except perhaps Greenwoods of the United States, by underwriting small print-run journals on intelligence, law enforcement and terrorism and publishing treatises on narrowly defined Cold War topics. I am often leery of such compilations of essays as Army and State in Postcommunist Europe ; often the constituent parts are too loosely linked, too varied in quality, or the collection simply reflects a need to publish papers in the wake of an international conference. Moreover, I have an aversion to less than useful labels such as "Postcommunist" - we may understand the geographical limits of such a term but, in jumbling together such disparate nations as Slovenia and the Russian Federation, it can hardly be judged scientifically as a "discrete grouping". These biases aside, this book also concentrates on a field that is little understood and should therefore be welcomed.

Nine essays are presented, some of which are more general, such as the overview of civil-military relations in the new democracies by Chris Donnelly of NATO, and others more specific, such as Pavel Baev's review of army reform in Russia. At times, the authors resort to officialese when describing realities in their own countries. However, this fact is mitigated by some of the areas selected for analysis, which are rarely - if ever - covered elsewhere. Examples of such vanguard work are Anton Bebler's contribution which focuses on corruption among security personnel in Central and Eastern Europe and Sven Gunnar Simonsen's piece which, among other issues, looks at nationalism within the Russian armed forces. Generally, the book is useful, at least in so far as it broadens the horizons of a country specialist and allows the more general reader to become rapidly acquainted with some of the most persistent security-related legacies of Communism.

In his monograph, John Garafano, a former fellow of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, focuses on the way in which the West - primarily the United States - should use its armed forces. In doing so, he immediately sets himself up for comparison with the great name in Western civil-military relations theory, Samuel P. Huntington, whose seminal work, The Soldier and the State , remains mandatory reading for all in the field, although it was first published in 1957. Many have written on the topic over the past decade but this recently published work is one of the more comprehensive and systematic examinations to date.

The first half of the book is devoted to defining what the author regards as the four fundamental frameworks employed by US administrations since the Vietnam War to approach the issue of how and when to use armed force. He labels these the Doctrinal or Strict Criteria Approach, Intuitive Interventionism, Critical Overload/Sliding Scale and the Logical Framework. In keeping with the tradition of almost every scholar of US foreign or national-security policy, Garafano links each methodology to a personality - Weinberger, Shultz/Albright, Clinton and Powell/Bush,respectively - though, in reality, there may be more to such phase changes than changes at the top.Each policy framework is clearly described, giving examples of how they were applied to national-security decisions as well as highlighting the pitfalls of each.

Garafano's view is that the United States needs to be active and prepared to use force frequently but must steer away from an overzealous inclination to use military might to solve a disparate array of foreign-policy tasks. In the second half of the treatise, based on the advantages and disadvantages identified in the four previous approaches, he sets out his own recommendations for a new framework, which he dubs Principled Judgement. "Principled" refers to eight principles or criteria that should always be considered prior to the use of force by any administration. Many of these would appear to be basic common sense, such as the need to define national interests, but they warrant mentioning given that some Central European states have yet adequately to apply them. Others are well suited to the new security environment, such as the need to discard the "last resort" concept of force.

It is difficult to fault Garafano on this thorough, cogent treatise, which will no doubt please students of classic strategic studies. Nevertheless, the practitioner is left somewhat wanting. Having enumerated the elements of his new system, the author recognises that changes in the institutional mind-set are needed for it to be realised, but the cynical reader will always find fault in a system that is too clear and well defined. All systems are run by humans and defence is a super-system that is particularly vulnerable to political and personal whims. Still, as an exercise in clearing the mental palate and demonstrating politically unfettered analysis, the work is impressive. One of its main conclusions concerning the need to "grow" civil and military strategists has a direct relevance for Central and Eastern European countries still attempting to reform their militaries. Such practical recommendations should make the work attractive to a wider audience than the immediate American one.

Share this    DiggIt   MySpace   Facebook   Delicious   Permalink